Cambodian Prime Ministers V- Rise Of The Right 1966-72

*Continuing from PART I , PART IIPART III and PART IV

Lon Nol

22 Oct 1966 –  2 May 1967: 192 days

14 Aug 1969 – 10 Mar 1972: 939 days

Total: 1,131 days

Lon Nol was born on November 13, 1913 in Kompong Loeu, in Prey Veng in Cambodia, into an influential Sino-Khmer family. His maternal grandfather was a Chinese immigrant from Fujian, who became Governor of Prey Veng province

After primary studies at the Doudart de Lagrée school in Phnom Penh, he attended the Lycée Chasseloup-Laubat in Saigon from 1928 to 1934.

In 1936, he joined the civil service of the colonial administration, working as a magistrate at the Siem Reap court, but in 1937 left for an administrative career in the province of Kampong Cham.

In May 1945, he became governor of the province of Kratié, and then head of the national police.

In 1946, King Norodom Sihanouk appointed Lon Nol to the Khmer delegation in assisting French negotiators responsible for returning the Thai occupied province of Battambang, which had been taken from Cambodia in 1941. In 1947 Lon Nol became governor of the returned province.

In 1951, he led a small party, Khmer Renovation (parti de rénovation Khmère), created by Nhiek Tioulong, campaigning on a right-wing ticket- but the party suffered electoral failure in the September elections. The same year, he was appointed head of the national police.

In 1952, he returned to Battambang with the rank of lieutenant colonel, with a mandate to destroy Issarak rebels, headed by Son Ngoc Thanh, and Vietminh troops also active in the region.

In 1954, Lon Nol chaired the commission set up by the Geneva agreements and which was to supervise the departure of the Vietminh elements that had infiltrated inside Cambodia.

In 1955, having become a general, he was appointed Chief of the General Staff of Khmer Royal Forces (FARK). The Khmer Renovation party was dissolved, with members joining the Sangkum Reastr Niyum.

In 1959, Lon Nol became Commander-in-Chief of the Khmer Army (FARK) and, on July 23 of the same year, Minister of Defense in the Sihanouk government. He kept the position for the next two governments of Pho Proeung and the Sihanouk cabinet formed on 28 January 1961.

In 1963, he was appointed Deputy Prime Minister- as Sihanouk cut off relations with the US and looked to China for support, Lon Nol kept ties with the Americans. The election of October 1966 saw a shift to the right and Lon Nol became Prime Minister on October 22. He lasted until May 1967, after a peasant revolt- likely stirred up by communist areas began around Samlot, Battambang, and spread- reportedly leading to the deaths of some 10,000. He was replaced by his conservative rival Son Sann.

On August 12, 1969, he formed a new government- one which would change Cambodian history. Sihanouk left for France in January 1970 for a two-month break. By March, anti-Vietnamese riots had again broken out and the embassies of both North and South Vietnam looted and torched by angry mobs. Lon Nol and Sihanouk’s cousin Sisowath Sirik Matak then closed the port at Kampong Som (present day Sihanoukville). The port had long been the starting point for what was known as ‘the Sihanouk Trail’- where weapons and supplies destined for the Vietnamese communists were safely unloaded and smuggled up the country to the NVA and Viet Cong.

Sihanouk was furious and was reportedly tape-recorded, blaming Lon Nol and Sirik Matak for the unrest and threatening to execute them both on his return to Phnom Penh. The exact details of the days before Sihanouk’s ousting and exile are not completely clear. Some reports say that SIrik Matak played Lon Nol the recording of Sihanouk’s threats of execution, and when Lon Nol continued to waiver, arrived with soldiers on the evening of March 17- threatening him into signing the documents needed to push through the vote against the Prince in the National Assembly.

The vote was passed the next day by unanimous consent (with one member walking out before the ballot). Lon Nol assumed the position of the Head of State on an emergency basis and declared martial law. Sihanouk, bolstered by China and North Vietnam made a call to arms against the new regime- which became the Khmer Republic in October 1970.

In February 1971, Lon Nol suffered a stroke, and his behavior became increasingly erratic and his rule authoritarian. Sirik Matak took more control as the acting premier during Lon Nol’s health crisis- which saw the Prime Minister receive treatment in Hawaii, but the deputy was pushed aside by other politicians and Lon Nol’s brother, Lon Non, which ended up with Matak being put under virtual house arrest by 1972.

Lon Nol appointed himself ‘Marshal’- a rank unknown in Cambodia on April 21, 1971, and suspended the National Assembly the following October- becoming a de facto dictator of the Khmer Republic. He also began to personally direct military operations against communist forces.

On June 4, 1972, and after elections, the validity of which were somewhat questionable, he was elected president of the Khmer Republic- the first and last voted President of Cambodia. “The seeds of democratization, which had been thrown into the wind with such goodwill by the Khmer leaders, returned for the Khmer Republic nothing but a poor harvest” remarked General Sutsakhan- who would take control of the country in the last days of the Republic in 1975.

American logistical aid poured into the country, and the government and those close to it became increasingly corrupt. US bombing kept Phnom Penh from being overrun, as hundreds of thousands of refugees poured into the city. On January 29, 1973, Lon Nol appealed for a ceasefire across the country- US bombing halted, but the Khmer Rouge ignored the request and intensified attacks. The Case-Church passed in June 1973 prohibited further U.S. military activity in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia unless the president secured Congressional approval in advance.

During his final months as leader, Lon Nol became further unhinged from the realities on the ground, consulting mystics and soothsayers- and in one reported incident, spreading consecrated salt in a line over a road outside Phnom Penh declaring that the Khmer Rouge could not pass over that point.

On April 1, 1975, with the capital was surrounded, Lon Nol flew to Indonesia- a death sentence already having being passed on him by Sihanouk. On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge invaded Phnom Penh, sounding the death knell for the Republic of Cambodia.

With his republic in near collapse, and himself in bad health, Lon Nol resigned and left for Indonesia with his family on April 1, 1975, on the invitation of President Suharto – hopeful that his departure might usher in a peace settlement. He was replaced by Saukam Khoy.

Lon Nol later settled in Fullerton, California with his second wife Sovanna Lon (his first wife had died of cancer in 1969). He died on November 17 1985 from a heart condition.

Son Sann

2 May 1967 – 30 Jan 1968: 273 days

Son Sann took over from Lon Nol’s first term as Prime Minister on May 2, 1967. An anti-communist, devout Buddhist and social conservative, he would later rise to prominence as the leader of the KPNLF (Khmer People’s National Liberation Front) which fought on the Thai border against the Vietnamese backed People’s Republic of Kampuchea.

He was born on October 5, 1911 in Phnom Penh, into a wealthy land-owning Khmer Krom family and went to study in France, passing through the Saint Aspais college in Melun and then the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, and graduated from HEC Paris in 1933.

On his return to Cambodia in 1935, he served the French administration as vice-governor of Siem Reap and Battambang from 1937.

In June 1939, he left the colonial administration work on his own businesses.

In December 1940, he was a member of a Cambodian economic mission sent to Tokyo to negotiate the export of rice to Japan.

From 1941, he was responsible for training the new king, Norodom Sihanouk in the field of economics.

Following World War II, he returned to the civil service and, in 1947, he became Minister of Finance, Vice-President of the Council and from 1950, Minister of Foreign Affairs. In 1954 it was as Minister of Foreign Affairs that he left to represent the Kingdom of Cambodia at the conference which led to the Geneva Accords, marking the end of the first Indochina War.

On his return, he created, with the help of French economist Achille Dauphin-Meunier, the National Bank of Cambodia, of which he became the first Governor in 1955, keeping the post until 1968, along with a range of ministerial appointments.

Son Sann took over as Prime Minister from Lon Nol in May 1967, and was replaced by an ailing Penn Nouth in January 1968. With Penn Nouth in ill health, Lon Nol again became Prime Minister in August 1969.

“General Lon Nol sent me a letter asking me to stay in my house. I didn’t mind.I had a house full of orchids I had always been too busy to look after,” he said.

In June Son Sann went to Beijing to try to reconcile with the prince and the Cambodian government. He continued these mediation efforts even after the proclamation of the Khmer Republic in October. “Lon Nol agreed but Prince Sihanouk refused,” he reportedly said in a Phnom Penh Post article.

By the end of 1971 he had won the support from several Cambodian, French and Chinese diplomats and politicians, but in 1972, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai rejected the initiative, and Lon Nol responded by proclaiming himself President of the Khmer Republic.

Son Sann was in France on April 17, 1975, when the Khmer Rouge seized power in Phnom Penh.

In 1976, he created and chaired the Association de General des Khmer a l’Etranger (AGKE) by which with the material and financial assistance of from the US, funded groups of former Republican soldiers and officers.

Following the Vietnamese backed invasion of December 1978, 0n 5 January 1979 the “Committee for a Neutral and Independent Cambodia” (Comité pour un Cambodge Neutre et Indépendant, CCNI) was established in Paris by Son Sann, Sim Var, Yem Sambaur, Hhiek Tioulong, Nong Kimmy, Thonn Ouk and Chai Thoul. 

It issued a six-point declaration condemning the Khmer Rouge and the “North Vietnamese Aggression”, urged adherence to the 1954 Geneva Accords and 1973 Paris Peace Conference proposals, demanded an immediate ceasefire in Cambodia, and the establishment of a democratically elected government to be established following a referendum.

In October 1979, Son Sann founded the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front (KPNLF)- a republican, anti-communist rebel group to oppose the Phnom Penh regime without supporting the return of the Khmer Rouge.

With his excellent English and anti-communist ideals, Son Sann became popular in the United States, where he campaigned for funds regularly- receiving tens of millions of both covert and overt aid through various channels as part of the Non Communist Resistance (NCR) during the 1980’s.

Although still head of the KPNLF and nominally the armed wing KPNLAF- commanded by General Sak Sutsakhan- in 1982, he joined the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK) as prime minister. This grouped together the KPNLF with the royalist FUNCINPEC and the Khmer Rouge- and despite having next to no presence inside Cambodia except for isolated camps and border raids- retained the seat at the United Nations.

After a series of catastrophic military defeats at the hands of the Vietnamese during the 1984-85 Dry Season Offensive, the KPNLF became divided into factions.

Son Sann nevertheless managed to retain political leadership, and took part in negotiations which culminated in the the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements in October 1991.

He returned to Phnom Penh in December 1991 and transformed the FLNPK into the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party (BLDP) and stood in the UNTAC sponsored election of May 1993- winning 10 of the 120 seats in the new Constituent Assembly.

Son Sann was elected president of the Assembly in June 1993 and supervised the drafting of the new constitution which was promulgated in September 1993.

After the reestablishment of the constitutional monarchy, Son Sann decided to retire from public life and ceded his role as President of the National Assembly to Chea Sim in October 1993.

Political rivalry with then BDLP Minister of Information Ieng Mouly saw the party split in 1995 into the Liberal Democratic Party headed by Mouly and the Son Sann party. Both parties quickly faded into obscurity after Son Sann resigned his seat and left to live in France in 1997.

He spent the rest of his life in Paris, where he died of a cardiac arrest on December 19, 2000. His body was brought back to Phnom Penh and was cremated in the presence of King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Monique. His ashes lie in a stupa in Ampil.

The term ‘Prime Minister’ is used loosely to refer to the parliamentary Head of State- as other terms are used in Cambodian political history.

There are major gaps in some of the profiles- which are taken from French and English language sources. Some of the dates and days in office may not be totally correct. The names and dates in office are taken from WORLDSTATESMAN and may not always tally with other sources.

Multiple sources including KBN, KI MEDIA, WIKIPEDIA and Sakou Samoth- HOMMES ET HISTOIRE DU CAMBODGE

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